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Stars return focused on putting 'bad week' behind them

Dallas hopes time away during the holidays served as a reminder of just how good it can be

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

Maybe the most interesting thing about the Stars this season is the difference between the floor and the ceiling.

The Stars started out 1-7-1 and followed that with a 14-1-1 run. And while a lot of water has gone under the bridge since that time, this most recent run feels a lot the same. The Stars played three of their best games of the season in beating the Jets, Islanders and Devils in early December, and then just played three of their worst games against the Lightning, Panthers and Flames.

While it would be easy to point to this last run and ponder the coaching change that put Rick Bowness in charge and shuffled assignments on the bench, a better answer might be that this is who the 2019-20 Stars are.

"We've let our game slide in all areas," Bowness said, adding that the team looks like it did at the beginning of the season. "We're not happy with neutral zone compete, positioning; not happy with neutral zone transition … and our forecheck is inconsistent.

"We are a 200-foot team, and we have to play together and we've gotten away from that."

 

[GAME DAY GUIDE: Everything you need to know before the Stars face the Avalanche]

 

The intriguing thing about all of that is they look so good when they do play together. They bounced back against a very good Winnipeg team and dissected one of the Eastern Conference's best in the Islanders. In those games, they had fantastic details with sticks in the passing lanes, puck support and strong offensive instincts. It wasn't easy, but it sure looked very natural.

"It looks like that because we've been doing it for a while. And when we don't do it, we look like we're not even on the same ice surface as the other team," said veteran Andrew Cogliano. "When you watch video, it's easy to figure out and it should be an eye-opener for the guys watching it. When you see us playing the right way, we're really tough to play against, one of the tougher teams in the league. But when we're not, we look like a very average team out there."

That discussion came up a lot on Friday as the Stars returned from holiday break to get ready for a home game Saturday against the Avalanche (6 p.m. CT; FS-SW+; KTCK) and a road game Sunday against the Coyotes. While the time off was good, players didn't really completely clear their minds.

"I think there are things that have been on guys' minds for the last few days," said veteran forward Blake Comeau. "We watched some video this morning, and there are things we've got to clean up."

Video: Bowness talks holiday break, keeping Stars prepared

Bowness took over in a shocking transition when Jim Montgomery was fired Dec. 10, and the interim coach has gone 3-3-1 so far. While Bowness, John Stevens and Todd Nelson are continuing with a very similar plan to what was set out at the beginning of the season, there are some tweaks. Bowness is putting emphasis on scoring chances for and against and also posted the standings on a wall in the dressing room.

The scoring chances, he said, are a reminder that the team needs to play two-way hockey.

"I'm big on offense. We've got to create more offense," Bowness said. "I know we're a good defensive team, but our offense should be coming from good defensive play. It's important that we keep our chances for up, because then we have the puck."

Bowness said he has pointed out in video what he wants to see from his team, and said Denis Gurianov's goal in a 5-1 loss to Calgary is a great example. The Stars created offense from defense and finished off a nice passing play that went from Roman Polak to Justin Dowling to Gurianov.

"They've got to see that. They've got to see themselves making great plays and goals," Bowness said of the video reinforcement. "That goal the other night by Denis is exactly what we're talking about."

Of course, that one perfect play came in a game where the Stars were badly outplayed and made far too many mistakes. Yet, the mechanics behind that play are what the team needs to be able to do on a more consistent basis.

The Stars are tied for second in goals against at 2.50 per game, but rank 25th in scoring at 2.61. They have to be able to play good defense, stick with the details and then pounce when the offensive opportunity presents itself.

It's a hard way to play, but it's one they have done on a regular basis over the span of a season and a half.

"The problems recently are things that have been our strengths, which makes it easier to figure out quicker," Cogliano said. "At the end of the day, it takes commitment and mental toughness to want to go do that every night. I feel like it's an individual thing. It takes commitment and will and work ethic and passion to execute it."

Video: Comeau on how holiday break helped recharge Stars

Bowness agreed, and said fixing the whole requires each part fitting in a bit better.

"There's just too many breakdowns. One guy not being where he's supposed to be makes the other four guys chase the game," he said. "Our positioning is bad and we're just completely out of sync. Controlled situations like a faceoff, we're not going where we're supposed to go. That's a mental issue, that's all that is."

A mental issue that can be fixed, with some not-so-subtle reminders.

The standings on the wall will be updated every day -- a learning tool that hammers home the fact this team very much wants to make the playoffs.

"The goal motivates the process," Bowness said, pointing out that the postseason is the goal. "You've got to have the process, but there's got to be something that motivates that process."

That process begins again on Saturday. Players say they know they can get back to where they have been, because they trust their teammates.

"You want to play hard and the right way every single night. If you don't get the bounces, then you live with it," Cogliano said. "But I think recently, it hasn't been like that, and I think that's not what our team is about."

Unfortunately, that's exactly what the team has been about at times. It's just that the other times, it has been the exact opposite -- it's been a symphony of teamwork and precision.

"We had a bad week, but we're still in a playoff spot," Bowness said. "We're not happy with the way we played, but is the roof falling in? No. We've just got to fix it."

 

Stars (20-14-4) vs. Avalanche (23-11-3)

Saturday, 6 p.m. CT

Where: American Airlines Center

TV: FOX Sports Southwest PLUS

Radio: The Ticket 1310-AM, 96.7-FM

Don't miss your chance to see the Stars take on the Colorado Avalanche at American Airlines Center on Saturday at 6 p.m. Get your tickets now!

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.

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